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Pounding Out the Profits—A Review

Reviewed by: Fred Holder

Pounding Out the Profits, A Century of American Invention, by Douglas Freund, copy right 19978, publisher is Mingus Mountain Machine Works, P. O. Box 532, Jerome, AZ 86331, 317 pages, hard cover, 6-3/4” by 10”, price $32.50 plus $4.50 shipping and handling. The book is available from Douglas Freund, P. O. Box 532, Jerome, Arizona 86331. TEL: (520) 639-3328.

I’ve been working on this book for a couple of months. The book is extremely interesting for history buffs such as myself. Unfortunately, I don’t have as much time to read as I might like so it has taken much longer than anticipated to finish the book. It has much more than I ever hoped to learn about power hammers  and their manufacture in America. Someone wishing to build their own power hammer should purchase this book and devour it from cover to cover before even making up their mind what type of power hammer that they wish to make. I’ve already recommended this to several people.

The researching of such a subject as power hammers used in blacksmithing shops and industry  in early America was no small undertaking. To the best of my knowledge, there had never been such a works undertaken before and for the most part the machines were not overly well documented in any books. Much of Freund’s information had to come from old journals and magazines and the advertisements in them. Finding those old publications in this late era was no small task I’m sure and I must commend the author for his persistence of a period of 10 years, starting he says at the 1986 ABANA  conference while watching Albert Paley demonstrate his hammer technique using a self contained, air actuated hammer. Here was a machine being used as an artist tool that must have been designed for some other use. Such thoughts on the author’s part led to the research and final writing of this comprehensive work. A work that seems to be so accurate and well documented that it will likely become the reference work of the future for this complex subject—the power hammer.

The author divided his book into six chapters, the first and last being opening and closing remarks. The four center chapters divide the hammers into four basic groups: atmospheric Hammers, crank-actuated helve hammers, vertically-configured  guided-ram hammers, and non-vertically-configured guided-ram hammers.

I thought that I knew quite a bit about power hammers, how they worked, and what they were used for. Well, I didn’t even scratch the surface. Am I going to remember all of this stuff, no. However, I now have a reference source to turn to when I have a question about power hammers, whether powered by water, steam, gasoline engine, electric motor, or the operator himself. Yes, that is correct, the author has covered the smith powered hammers or “Olivers” as they were “want to be called” over the years.

In any power applied hammer, some method must be provided to cushion the hammer itself against the shock of striking the metal being forged against an anvil. A great many methods have been used over the years. In the early helve hammers, the wooden beam absorbed much of the shock, plus the hammer was allowed to bounce until it was lifted again by the actuating mechanism. As the hammer evolved, they became crank actuated so that some form of cushion was a necessity to keep the hammer from destroying itself while hammering the steel. One of the early methods was an adaptation of the cylinder from the steam hammer. In these  so called atmospheric hammers, the air in the cylinder became the cushion to absorb the shock of striking the metal and to allow some flex because of differing thicknesses of workpiece. These hammers may have been troublesome, but served their purpose regardless of their problems.

In 1860, Edward Paye of New York City was granted a patent for the first crank-actuated helve hammer. These hammers were manufactured by a large number of companies over the ensuing years, well into the 20th Century. There are likely some of them still in existence today. These hammers used springs and rubber cushions to protect the hammer from the shock of its blows on the hammered iron. It was the helve that most early foot powered hammers or Olivers were based on. Even the early model that I first saw at the ABANA conference in 1984 was a helve type hammer, using leaf springs to swing the hammer head and absorb some of the shock of striking the hot steel.

The vertically-configured, crank-actuated, open-die power forging hammer began making their appearance following the Civil war and became the most effective forging machines available. The machine to outlive most of its rivals was the well known “Little Giant” developed by the Mayer Brothers. There were dozens of hammer designs, some never made it to production but many competed with the ever popular helves and in the long run seem to have won out.

The popularity of the crank-actuated, guided-ram hammer led to the development of the non-vertical version to avoid the extreme height of these machines as ram weight and forging sizes increased. These hammers generally employed a pivoting beam or helve-like element to communicate the reciprocating motion to the ram. These hammers generally required more shop floor space, but didn’t require as much height and the vertically configured hammers.

Hammers such as the Beaudry and Bradley come to mind when the non-vertically configured hammer is considered. All sorts of shock absorbing techniques were used with these hammers, but spring linkages similar to those used with the vertical hammers seemed to be very common.

The Author notes in closing that it is only recently that the artists have adopted the power hammer to their use in production of artistic works done in iron. He feels that their influence has had an impact upon the traditional blacksmiths just as the traditional smiths have influenced the artists with high standards of craftsmanship.

This book is a must buy  for anyone interested in power hammers and their history, either as a collector, user, or modern day inventor. No where will you find more information about this interesting subject!
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This page was last updated on July 20, 1998.